Telecom service providers sometimes offer "lucky" numbers to lure new customers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Telecom service providers sometimes offer "lucky" numbers to lure new customers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Strange things happen all the time in China, but this seems too good to be true.

Over the weekend, mainland media reported a certain auspicious mobile number – 1888888888 – was sold to a Shantou automation company for a record 120 million yuan (US$17.45 million), with the proceeds going to charity.

Was someone really willing to pay a nine-digit sum for a 10-digit number with nine consecutive eights? The Chinese are certainly known for paying sky-high prices for everything from land to tea leaves.

Alas the whole thing turned out to be a late April’s fool joke. According to Beijing Mobile, a subsidiary of China Mobile, the number in question is not in use, and there was no such auction.

Perhaps we, as readers, have become so accustomed to the crazy headlines being made by Chinese that we simply accept whatever we read.

Why would anyone would pay the equivalent of the price of 20,000 Apple iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8 phones for one lucky and easy-to-remember number?

All told, eight means prosperity. To the Chinese, one is also lucky, and so is three; likewise, six.

You would be astonished by how many bosses in Hong Kong have 168 (“gaining fortune continuously”) or 138 (“gaining fortune for whole life”) as part of their personal or business contact numbers. And, as in Singapore, there is a market for trading lucky numbers.

I recently came across a mobile accessory shop in Johnston Road, Wan Chai, where I saw a list of lucky mobile numbers up for sale. I could not believe that a number made up only of sixes was going for over HK$1 million.

The pursuit of lucky numbers does not stop there, though. All three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong have auctioned “lucky number” notes for charity in the past decade. Bank of China issued new notes in Hong Kong, Macau and China for the Beijing Olympics, in 2008, while HSBC and Standard Chartered both issued unique HK$150 notes to celebrate their 150th anniversaries. All attracted strong responses from collectors who were willing to pay over a hundred times the face value of the notes.

Infatuation with numbers also makes car plates a competitive market in Hong Kong.

The number 28, which literally means “easy to get rich,” sold last year for HK$18.1 million, breaking the previous record of HK$16.5 million for the number 18, which means “sure to get rich.”

The Chinese just never tire of games involving numbers and money.